This is a favourite tactic of the Coalition. ‘Labour got it all wrong’ is their favourite cry. Now this is something all governments do to some extent but the Coalition has raised this to an art. It’s not just political knockabout but has been used to justify many of the huge changes David Cameron is making to our public services.
So education Michael Gove endlessly tells us that Labour’s education record was appalling. Therefore we need to speed up the freeing of schools from local authorities through setting up academies and ‘free’ schools. But on 24th July 2012 in the Independent Michael Wilshire, the head of Ofsted is quoted as saying that schools in London were 50 times worse in the 70s, 80s and 90s and are now in his words ‘hugely better’. So unless you believe there has been a miracle perfomed in the last 2 years maybe Labour did something right after all, even in London which has tended to get some of the greatest criticism.
So too it goes with health. Generally the line here is that despite substantially increased spending ‘things didn’t get better’. Productivty we were told was poor. Running with this line of argument brings the ability to imply that reducing spending doesn’t have an impact. It also is used to justify the wholesale reorganisation of the NHS in England
But if the basic premise is wrong then all this upheaval is unnecessary. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey tells a different story. Satisfaction with the NHS was sitting at 34 per cent in 1997 and rose to 70 % in 2010.
And the decline in productivity argument has also been challenged. In February 2012 the Guardian reported a paper published in the Lancet, in which Nick Black, professor of health services research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that although the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, claimed NHS productivity had fallen 15%, the opposite was almost certainly the case.
The constant suggestion that the NHS ‘isn’t working’ can have other impacts too. A few weeks ago here in Scotland I was in a conversation where someone said ‘with the NHS on its knees why are we letting in so many immigrants to use our services’. While resources are always at a premium in health, not least because of the way in which medicine is always developing and able to do more and we have an ageing population, the NHS is far from being ‘on its knees’ and such exaggeration by politicians does little to assist rational debate on either the NHS or immigration.